Truth and Freedom
“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:30-32, HCSB).
As I was reading these familiar words in my Bible this morning, I almost glossed over the context. But, I have been leading my small group trough Kristi McClelland’s study, Jesus and Women, and I am challenging myself to slow down, to question, and to “feast” on the scriptures. One of the ways to do this is to look for the details that I used to ignore in my rush to get my personal application points. The first detail that hit me was in verse 31, Jesus was speaking to the “Jews who had believed Him.”
If you continue to read chapter 8, you quickly realize that Jesus’s statement in verse 32 – one that many of us have memorized, mimicked & mounted, actually sparked a sharp debate between Jesus and His believers!
My default response when I read through any passage of scripture where people had the audacity to argue with Jesus, is to assume I would never err like they did. I like to think that as an informed and enlightened Christian, I would instantaneously accept his words and wholeheartedly obey them. Of course, this thought is pure fantasy with a big dose of insanity! In all debates with Jesus, I need to sit on the side of the arguers and the mockers first, for that is much closer to where my sin-stained nature is already camping out.
So what exactly did his believer’s object to? The insinuation that they were not free. Their little sweet spot of land was at that very moment controlled by the Roman Empire, so they were in fact not politically free. The Old Testament also recounts repeated, extended bouts of captivity and enslavement of the entire nation of Israel. So objecting to Jesus’ statement about being enslaved is quite comical, actually. But Jesus wasn’t referring to politics. He was referring to their souls.
“Jesus responded, ‘I assure you: Everyone who commits a sin is a slave of sin.’” (John 8:34, HCSB)
Hold on a minute, anyone who commits A SIN, as in a single sin, is enslaved? For someone like me, who has enrolled in a lifelong, sin-management program, this is devastating news. Now Jesus is getting a little too personal. And now I am fully aware that I am arguing against this idea, against Jesus as well. Surely one sin doesn’t make me a slave? Isn’t moderation the key to living a healthy, fulfilling life? A little sin here or there can’t really derail my entire existence?
Sadly, the news gets worse. In verses 38-47 of John 8, Jesus further explains that slaves to sin cannot call God their father, but rather they are children of the devil. Also, unwillingness to listen to Jesus, to hear and accept his words, is yet another sign of not belonging to God. AND Jesus was telling this to “the Jews who had believed Him.”
For me now, and for his believers then, I am wondering how does this work? How can God say I am his child in John 1:12 because I believe in Jesus and then Jesus tells me God is not my father because of my sin? When Jesus spoke these words about knowing truth that will set one free, I made 2 assumptions. First, that he was offering a future, rescue-from-hell freedom, to those who did not believe him. Second that he was showing the rest of us how to manage our sin problem. But now I believe that I have completely missed his point. Jesus was issuing a loving warning to his believers, then and now. Sin is a master, and we are its slaves.
The Downward Cycle
God reveals how the whole sin cycle plays out in the book of James, “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15). I think when Jesus told us “to continue in his word” in John 8:31, he was inviting us to eradicate sin in the desire stage, before it was expressed.
First, I must agree that I have sin that is mastering or threatening to master me because of my own evil desires.
I recently read the biography of Elisabeth Elliott who was a missionary to Ecuador in the 1950’s. Her story is incredible and inspiring, for so many reasons, and I won’t do it justice by trying to summarize any of it here. If you are familiar with her story, I highly recommend this book! While reading Elisabeth’s fascinating story I realized that her primary calling wasn’t to selflessly serve tribal groups in jungles, though she did; her first and primary calling was to holiness. She understood that any sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant, would divide her heart’s affection and keep her from living freely for Christ. She journaled her prayers daily and they often contained verbiage like “Do with me as Thou wilt…preserve me from all harms and hindrances of offensive manners and self-assertion…from overwhelming love of our own ideas and blindness to the value of other…from all jealousy…from the retort of irritation and the taunt of sarcasm…from all arrogance in dealings with all men…Chiefly, O Lord, we pray Thee, give us knowledge of Thee, to see Thee in all Thy works…to hear and know Thy call.” (pg.198)
Her ultimate desire was purity, in every area of her thoughts, motivations and interactions. Can I just say that I have never prayed to be as free from sin as that! I am only too happy to ask God for a little self-control now and then rather than for a whole scale clean out of every, little, errant thought. I have much to learn from the old saints who knew well the trajectory of compromise and lived and prayed desperately to avoid it!
The end of Elisabeth’s prayer is telling too, after she asked for purity, deliverance from evil thoughts, then she prayed for deeper knowledge of God, to see him and know his voice, his calling. That sounds a lot like the same message Jesus was giving in John 8:32: know truth and know him.
A Little Greek
When Jesus told us that we would know the truth, he used the word, epiginosko which is a learned, fuller type of knowing. As described in the The Complete Word Study Dictionary, by Spiros Zodhaites, ThD, “Sometimes epiginosko implies a special participation in the object known and gives greater weight to what is stated (John 8:32), in which it is equivalent to believing and knowing the truth.” (pg. 373).
I think of it like this: knowing about the truth and knowing truth are quite different.
For example: I know that all people are sinful and that they will hurt me, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I also know that my response is the only one I can control and that bible gives us multiple examples in how to respond. “Whoever conceals an offense promotes love, but whoever gossips about it separates friends,” (Proverbs 17:9)“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes,” (Romans 12:17). And even this: “Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing,” (1 Peter 3:8-9.) In theory, I agree with these methods. But, hurt me or my family and ask me to respond like this? Let’s just say I congratulate myself on my practice if I manage not to explode in anger. But I certainly allow myself to drop a snarky comment or two and then complain loudly about my mistreatment to my other Christian friends!
This is how I jump on the sin-cycle train ride. In the scenario above, was I a victim? Yes, but now my evil desire for revenge or for retaliation has taken over and has given birth to sin. Anger is expressed, bitterness is taking root, and I am trapped in this endless loop. I know about the truth of giving a blessing, of overlooking an offense, but I am not living that truth, his truth.
In adhering to my personal sin-management program, my goal is overcoming impulse. Some days I succeed, most days I don’t. Instead of living a full, abundant life, I have settled for and moderately happy existence that can collapse with the right amount of pressure or offense. Jesus would call this slavery.
However, if I followed Jesus’s plan, If I sought to epiginosko him, his goal is freedom.
Freedom in Jesus
Friends, I still have so much to learn about Jesus, and I am so thankful for studies like Jesus and Women where I am learning more and more about the incredible love that Jesus had for women and for all his believers when he walked the earth. I am also thankful for how he continues to love me today. But I cannot simply watch the videos and read the study guide and expect to epiginosko truth.
No, the key is in devouring the word of God. Letting my mind marinate on the truth I read. Praying, like Elisabeth Elliott, for his truth to so permeate my life, that I would be quickly convicted by any amount of compromise. And finally, praying his truth, declaring it out loud and letting its meaning linger in my ears, and in my heart are ways that personally draw me closer to Jesus.
In all of these activities, I am learning to let go of my old habits, my old ways of managing sin and truly embracing what Jesus offers, freedom! But it is a struggle. Even after writing all of this, I confess that my desire to put to death sin is not very strong. Most of the time I am still content with my fairly good behavior.
So today my prayer is not as eloquent as Elisabeth Elliott’s, but it is my starting point: Father God, I want to taste the freedom that Jesus promised, but I don’t want to give up my desires. Will you please change my desires, but ever so gently? And will you be patient with me when I revert back to my old habits. In your kindness, don’t let me linger there long. Let me feel the weight of holy discomfort, until I agree with you that not just one sin, but all of my sin needs to go. In Jesus’s name, I pray. Amen.
“Therefore, If the son sets you free, you will be really free,” John 8:36.
Please pray that for me, too. And please let me know how I can pray for you!